In less than three years, 18-year-old Juan Ortega has gone from learning to play guitar on YouTube to uploading covers of his favorite Mexican regional music on Instagram, to forming his group Los Aptos. The group’s viral hits have already taken Los Aptos’ Sad Sierreño love songs to the top of the charts, gaining major label attention.
Ortega says he was an enthusiastic fan of all music from an early age, soaking in influences from his Mexican-born parents, who played regional music and rock en Español at family functions, to his older sister’s American indie rock.
“I’ve been surrounded by different genres of music my whole life,” Ortega tells Remezcla over a Zoom call from his bedroom in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “I’ve always been a music lover and I always wanted to make music or be an artist since I was a kid.”
Still, Ortega says he never thought that his musical dreams could ever become a reality and decided to focus on graphic design and school. It wasn’t even until 2019 when he says he first picked up a guitar, inspired by the DIY spirit of groups like T3R Elemento who were uploading covers and original songs to their social media and gaining fans by the millions.
“That was really dope, I really admired that,” he says.
While Ortega grew up a fan of rap music, the fresh new sounds emanating from fellow Mexican and Mexican-American artists like Natanael Cano and Junior H were not only exciting to the then-high school sophomore, they became his gateway to making his own music.
“I’ve always wanted to make music and I never thought it would have been in Spanish,” he says. “But my platform grew from uploading Spanish covers, my audience is primarily Mexican Spanish-speakers, and I grew from that.”
Soon, Ortega recruited his childhood friend Jony Rivera to play bass, and towards the end of 2019, Los Aptos was born. The duo’s first cover video, of the song “No Eh Cambiado” by Junior H, quickly hit 20 thousand views in one week. The group’s next video went viral, raking in more than 100 thousand views shortly after.
Schooling from home due to COVID-19 for much of their junior and senior years in high school allowed Los Aptos the freedom to work on original songs and self-release their debut project, “Mis Ilusiones.” The five-song EP was recorded in Summer 2020 and released in September.
“We recorded that all in one day in Jony’s room,” he says. “The production wasn’t the best, but it was what we could do. It was good enough to put us out there.”
Good enough to land “Mis Ilusiones” in the Top 100 of Apple Music’s Latin charts behind the success of its lead track “Eres Tú.” The song is the perfect example of the longing romantic sirreño sound Los Aptos has become known for. The band then quickly followed up with its next hit, “Enamorado,” which slowly and steadily climbed its way to 200 thousand streams.
With major labels eager to cash in on the virality of young groups, says Ortega, it wasn’t easy to turn down some of the deals being put on the table. But, at the end of the day, Ortega says, he knows his music is still developing and the group decided to release its upcoming album, Lluvia Y Sol, on the indie Latin and Mexican regional label VPS Music.
The first single, “Mi Amor,” debuts today on Remezcla ahead of the album’s release on August 27. Now a trio after adding additional guitarist Alex Rivera, brother of bassist Jony Rivera, the song and album are a giant leap from the bedroom recordings on Los Aptos’ early releases.
With the popularity of “Enamorado,” “Mis Ilusiones,” and the release of “Mi Amor,” the group is poised at the forefront of Mexican regional music’s next big thing —Sad Sierreño. Partially a response to the rougher trap-influences of corridos tumbados while also being its gentler, more romantic cousin (think ‘90s R&B’s relation to the more rugged street hip-hop of the same era), Lluvia y Sol is the group’s bid to become the genre’s poster boys.
“It’s hard to put a name to our genre and I’m so thankful to be part of this new movement,” he says. “It’s a mashup of different music for those of us who grew up listening to so many different influences. A lot of the influences may not be noticeable — it could be something as simple as the storytelling. I try not to be so direct with my lyrics and be a little more poetic.”
So while most kids his age are enjoying their first summer out of high school, Ortega and his fellow Aptos are eagerly awaiting another kind of graduation — on a much larger stage.
“I want people to notice that the quality of the work has stepped up,” says Ortega. “We worked in a real studio on state-of-the-art equipment. This genre of music is reaching people like never before. It’s growing tremendously and I want to keep growing as an artist.”